It was the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, only hours after it had become clear that the UK had voted to change the course of history by leaving the European Union.
Sixty civil servants had gathered at the Treasury to listen to an important talk. However, the speaker was not an economist or a politician but Carol Dweck: the Stanford professor who has become famous among teachers for her “growth mindset” theory.
The fact that the pre-arranged talk went ahead, with Westminster still dazed and confused by the momentous referendum result, is testament to just how much impact her theory has had.
It states that people are more likely to be successful if they believe their intelligence and abilities are not fixed or innate but can be developed. And Professor Dweck believes that recent political developments have only increased the relevance of this idea. She thinks that people with a growth mindset could be less likely to vote for politicians offering “false hope through hatred”.
“Events like the Brexit vote make the need for schools to instil a growth mindset in their pupils more important than ever,” the academic says in an exclusive TES interview during a visit to London.
Dweck thinks that voters on both sides of the Atlantic are turning against the political establishment, in part because they are worried about the future of their own jobs in the current era of globalisation and rapid technological advancement.
“Because of the result of the referendum, I framed the talk [to civil servants] in terms of what education needs to do to prepare young people for the jobs of the future,” she says. “The formerly content majority are legitimately worried about the jobs of the future because many of the standard jobs [such as] factory jobs, mining jobs and construction jobs are disappearing.”
And this, she argues, is why schools must teach a growth mindset: the belief that every individual can develop their skills and abilities and that no pupil should be written off as unable to succeed.
Dweck argues pupils should learn the “general skill” of saying: “Here’s a worthwhile problem – it’s messy, it’s complicated. How do I stick with it? How do I come back from dead ends?”
She adds: “I said [to the civil servants], I’m not claiming growth mindset is a solution to these complex issues, but I think it could be part of a solution if implemented properly.
“A growth mindset makes [pupils] feel they can learn and that they’re capable of taking advantage of education to the fullest, that they have a future in the education system that will lead to a future in society.
“Without this, people may be more likely to vote for politicians or agendas that offer false hope through hatred and exclusion. Hatred can make people feel strong in the moment but it will not solve the employment problems.”
Dweck believes that growth mindset, and the ability to solve complex problems, should be taught at school by building lessons around relevant social issues. “I don’t think we should stop teaching basic maths and verbal skills, but they can be integrated into a context where kids understand their relevance to solving important problems,” she says.
As an example, Dweck describes teaching maths by asking pupils to solve problems related to droughts that have taken place in the US. “The whole emphasis on solving problems in the world makes the point of school clearer, because many of the students we need to nurture towards university are not seeing the point,” she argues.
This is an edited article from the 5 August edition of TES. To read how about how Carol Dweck thinks the introduction of growth mindset in the classroom can be improved, see this week’s TES magazine. Subscribers can read the full article here.